CHEVY CHASE — Parents of children from Somerset Elementary School questioned Montgomery County Police officials Wednesday evening for not informing them of a months-long investigation which culminated in the arrest of a man with deep community ties for allegedly hiding a camera in a bathroom at a local children's gymnastics center.
"These are our children," a parent yelled out at a meeting with police Wednesday. "We found out in October. That's totally unacceptable!"
More than 60 people attended the community meeting in the National 4-H Conference Center on Connecticut Avenue in response to the arrest of Chevy Chase resident Jonathan Oldale. Police arrested Oldale Oct. 18. He is charged with one count of “conducting visual surveillance of an individual in a private place without his/her consent with prurient intent” – a misdemeanor which carries a potential of one year in jail or a $2500 fine.
The investigation began in May when a Silver Star Gymnastics employee alerted police after finding a backpack underneath a "wet floor" sign that contained a camera concealed in an automobile key fob. Oldale claimed the backpack as his, according to an Oct. 27 police press release.
Police detectives have not located any videos, they say, that include victims from the gymnastics studio.
Parents told District 2 Police Commander Paul Liquorie if they had known Oldale was under investigation, then they could have kept their children away from him for the last five-and-a-half months.
According to a 2016 Somerset Elementary PTA newsletter, Oldale was a contact for the New & International Families Committee and the Somerset Cub Scouts.
Parents said at the meeting Oldale was also a class parent as well as the school photographer and he often hosted camp events at his house during the summer months.
"He was constantly around children," another parent said. "He created the graduation video in June!"
Oldale hasn’t been convicted of any of the charges and in response to queries by concerned parents, Liquorie said investigating digital data that includes photographs, emails and contact lists is a time-consuming process and other cases, including homicides, get priority.
"Often, there is a back log," Liquorie said. "Once we collect evidence, it's just the beginning. Someone has to review all that information very carefully. We then have to make a chargeable offense."
Another parent asked why police didn't alert the school system in May when they first learned of the bathroom incident.
Liquorie said serving a search warrant to Oldale's house in May should have put Oldale on notice.
"We were confident that person wouldn't cause any more problems," Liquorie said.
Sgt. Sheila Sugrue of the Special Investigations Unit said there was also a legal burden to consider.
"These are very sensitive accusations," Sugrue said. "We didn't know his intent. Nothing we had showed us this was a contact crime."
Police said since Oldale's arrest, a no trespass order has been issued; Oldale is no longer allowed on Montgomery County Public Schools properties.
"Given his constant presence at the Somerset Pool, many of us are concerned that during the summer months, our kids were at risk – given how much access he had to our children," another parent said.
If parents feel their children may have been a victim of abuse, they can go online to http://treehousemd.org/contact-us for assistance. Oldale turned himself into detectives on October 18 and later released on bond. He is scheduled to go trial on December 12, 2017.